Scudder, Ida Sophia (1870-1960)

Medical missionary in India


Born in India, Scudder was a granddaughter of the first American medical missionary, Dr. John Scudder, who with his seven sons all became missionaries. Graduating from Northfield Seminary in Massachusetts, she returned to visit her parents in India, determined never to become one of “those missionary Scudders.” Here in 1894 she received her call, that famous “three knocks in the night,” when three young women died in childbirth because there had been no woman doctor to treat them. Graduating from Cornell University Medical School in the first class open to women, for two years she treated woman patients in her father’s bungalow in Vellore, South India; then in 1902 she moved into Schell Hospital, built with money she herself raised in America. She performed her first operation with no helper but the butler’s wife, yet in time she became noted as a surgeon. By 1906 the number of patients she treated annually had risen to 40,000.

Scudder2_1899Scudder began training nurses, an almost unheard-of procedure in Asia. Her nursing school grew to become the first graduate school of nursing in India, affiliated with Madras University. In 1909 she started her famous roadside dispensaries, a ministry to patients in surrounding villages that expanded throughout the years to treat thousands each week, developing finally into Vellore’s Rural Unit for Health and Social Affairs, administering public health service to a vast area.

Never satisfied, in 1918, with the help of women of many denominations, she founded a college to train women doctors. Beginning with seventeen girls, all taught by herself, it grew into a great complex of buildings in a beautiful valley, graduating thousands of skilled, dedicated doctors. In 1923, again with the support of many denominations, she built a larger hospital in the center of Vellore. Faced with new regulations by the Indian government that threatened to end her work, in 1941 she traveled the length and breadth of the United States raising money, enlisting new leadership with advanced degrees, securing the necessary upgrading of both college and hospital. Both were now open to men as well as women.

During her lifetime she saw her medical center become one of the largest in all Asia, the departments multiply to include radiation-oncology under her niece and name sake, Dr. Ida B. Scudder, thoracic surgery, nephrology, leprosy surgery and rehabilitation under Dr. Paul Brand, microbiology, rural work, mental health, ophthalmology, and many others — a list of “firsts” in India commensurate with her abounding energy, indomitable will, and consecrated purpose. She died in Vellore.

Dorothy Clarke Wilson, “Scudder, Ida Sophia,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 609-610.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.



Jameson, Carol B. Be Thou My Vision. Madras: B. Viswanatha Reddi at the B.N.K. Press, 1983.

Jeffery, M. Pauline. Ida S. Scudder of Vellore, India. Mysore City, India: Wesley Press, 1951.

Scudder, Dorothy Jealous. A Thousand Years in Thy Sight: The Story of the Scudder Missionaries in India. New York: Vantage Press, 1984.

Wilson, Dorothy Clarke. Dr. Ida. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959.

Wilson, Dorothy Clarke. “Ida S. Scudder.” In Mission Legacies: Biographical Studies of Leaders of the Modern Missionary Movement, edited by Gerald H. Anderson et al. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1994. Pp. 307-315.

Info about “the collection of Ida Scudder’s papers, 1853-1967 (inclusive), 1888-1960 (bulk): a finding aid“, including a brief biography, at Harvard University Library.


“Ida Scudder.” In Jeffery, Mary Pauline. Dr. Ida: India — The Life Story of Ida S. Scudder. New York: Revell, 1938.